Life after Death
Human interest in the origin of life has been documented throughout the recorded history. Several ancient philosophers propagated their own theories of the origin of life, and the Adam and Eve theory was one of them. In order to find a scientific answer to the question, palaeontologists studied many human fossils of the prehistoric age. They have now established that the human race evolved from Homo erectus, a creature more or less similar to the great apes. The human race came into being between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago. At that time, people lived as nomads or wanderers in groups or bands of fifty to a hundred members and often used fire and stone tools. They had not yet begun cultivating crops and depended largely upon hunting quarry and gathering wild vegetables for their survival. They had not yet learnt language, clothing, morals or religion.
Around 100,000 years ago, the human race discovered an incredible skill with the aid of imagination—the technique of speaking through language. This altogether changed human life, and they could recognize gods and demons only after this invention. It was the first major step towards the subsequent scientific advancements, and humans changed the face of the earth with its help. With the aid of speech, each new human generation began to receive the experience of its ancestors: that is what we call education today. The discovery of language laid the foundation of modern information technology.
Ancient people must have talked about every happening around them. After exhaustive study, they appreciated that several phenomena were beyond their comprehension. For example, they could not decipher the reasons behind childbirths and deaths, the changing seasons, earthquakes and storms. Whatever they could not comprehend, they imagined some unseen power or force behind it. Even though individual members of a band shared their viewpoints on such matters, they accorded much importance to the opinion of the band’s head. Later, this chief was designated a specific title such as priest or shaman.
Gradually, these priests imagined several divine powers behind all natural events. For example, they imagined that some power in the sky caused storms and rain. Priests also noticed that there were two types of phenomena—good and the bad. They wisely speculated that good and bad events were the respective consequence of the bliss and the wrath of divine powers.
Gradually, this speculation became a conviction, and thereafter priests sought ways to appease the divine powers. This led priests to invent numerous methods of flattering or worshiping the powers. For example, they invented to fold hands, bow, kneel, utter gratifying slogans, beg for mercy and dance as a means of appeasing the divine powers. Priests taught these methods of worship to the people of their bands. Gradually, each human band came to devise and adopt a uniform way of worship to please these powers under the guidance of their priests. Furthermore, they introduced the ritual of offering sacrifices to protect people from the wrath of the powers. Anthropologists do not know exactly when humanity began these activities; however, they do believe that these social activities were the beginning of religions.
Anthropologists have excavated the earliest evidence of religious practices from the Skhul Cave situated at Mount Qafzeh in Israel. At this site, they found human remains, buried around one hundred thousand years ago. People intentionally buried these dead bodies along with red ochre, stone tools, deer antlers and other animal bones. Anthropologists have noticed two basic purposes behind the burial of the dead: avoidance of the foul smell and safety of the dead body. They believe that prehistoric people had developed a peculiar conviction about death: they supposed something existed even after death.
At some point in time, priests imagined an unseen divine spark that kept each animal alive. Priests of different regions named it: one of those names was the soul. Taylor believed that prehistoric people built many tales and myths about dreams and death, and these gradually fashioned the religious concepts. He suggested that dreaming of the dead led to the idea of a dual existence of all people: a visible physical body and an invisible soul.
With the help of the soul’s concept, priests fabricated another imaginary notion—the idea of ghosts, and that also became a global illusion in the course of time. People of almost all ancient civilizations endowed ghosts with more or less similar attributes; they believed that these were the wandering souls of the dead. Each ghost was supposed to be an unseen force that had the ability to disturb, destabilize or even destroy humans.
The prehistoric priest must have been the most intelligent person in each human group or band. He worked as a scientist, teacher, doctor and leader of his group and acquired knowledge from his parents and own experiences. The priest considered himself different from others in the group: in order to express this, he adorned his body differently.
Apart from human remains, archaeologists have also found evidence of idol worship in the prehistoric era. They have excavated several female figurines from different corners of the world, belonging to a period between twenty to thirty thousand years ago. Most of these show a female figure with large breasts and protruding belly—the portrayal of a pregnant female.
It is likely that the prehistoric people were obviously curious and trying to find out the reasons for childbirth; they learnt that females alone had the capability of giving birth. Childbirth, breast-feeding, menstruation cycle and the systematic changes in pregnant females surprised them, and therefore they must have perceived pregnancy as a miraculous event.
During the prehistoric period, humanity formulated the concept of divine powers called gods. The next chapter will describe the gods of prehistoric people.